The Minnesota Vikings have two vacancies to fill on the offensive line this offseason. Left tackle holds the utmost importance after the release of veteran Riley Reiff, followed by replacing guard Dakota Dozier.
Minnesota could get creative with rearranging the offensive line. However, the Vikings’ best move likely comes from keeping things simple.
Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson consulted former Minnesota head coach and longtime offensive line coach Mike Tice on what routes the Vikings could take in reloading the offensive front.
Tice believes 2020 second-round pick Ezra Cleveland is the best option moving forward.
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Tice Picks Ezra Cleveland Over Brian O’Neill
Several factors played a role in Tice favoring Cleveland over fourth-year right tackle Brian O’Neill.
Cleveland’s athleticism and O’Neill’s consistent development at right tackle proved to be the deciding factors.
“I like Cleveland’s athleticism and to me (I think) he would be their first shot and then have O’Neill where he’s at on the right side, and O’Neill’s going to get better,” Tice said, per Tomasson. “If they move O’Neill over to left, you’re starting two new tackles.”
There are also financial implications that follow O’Neill, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. O’Neill’s market value stands at a $6.8 million annual salary, per Sportrac, at right tackle.
If O’Neill moved to left tackle, he would command more money in possible extension talks in 2022. With Kirk Cousins guaranteed $45 million that season and extensions on the horizon for Harrison Smith and Danielle Hunter, there likely won’t be ample funds to sign a left tackle.
Cleveland, on the other hand, has three years left on his contract, allowing Minnesota more time to assess if he is worth a second contract at the position he was drafted to play.
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Cleveland Can be Better at His True Position
Cleveland struggled as a replacement right guard last season, but he did play better than both Pat Elflein and Dru Samia — without a real preseason or rookie minicamps.
Cleveland dazzled in the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, testing in the 96th percentile for the 40-yard dash (4.93 seconds), 98th percentile for the three-cone drill and 94th percentile in the 20-yard shuttle.
From @NFLTotalAccess on Boise State OL Ezra Cleveland and Baylor WR Denzel Mims helping their causes at the Combine. Stay for @lindsay_rhodes’ one-liner I can’t believe I left hanging out there. (cc: @betterthanezra) pic.twitter.com/BROggodVd4
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 3, 2020
Cleveland didn’t have the same opportunities to use his agility in pass protection on the interior offensive line. Instead, he was caught in tight-hand battles that required fast reaction and years of reps to excel at.
Cleveland moving to left tackle would allow the soon-to-be 23-year-old to use his ranginess and intuition he developed at the position in college to take over. He may not replicate Reiff’s resurgent 2020 performance — allowing 21 pressures and one sack while committing just one penalty.
However, moving Cleveland to left tackle provides more flexibility and cap space to sign two guards in a deep free agency class this offseason.
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